Sunrise gleaming off the morning grass. Public domain.
Revised Common Lectionary
See full texts, artwork, and Revised Common Lectionary Prayers for this Sunday at Vanderbilt Divinity Library.
Leccionario en Español, Leccionario Común Revisado: Consulta Sobre Textos Comunes. Para obtener más recursos leccionario, Estudios Exegético: Homiléticos.
Lectionnaire en français, Le Lectionnaire Œcuménique Révisé
Lecionário comum revisado (português)
2 Samuel 23:1-7. David's final song: "One who rules over the people justly... is like the light of the morning, the rising sun of a cloudless morning glistening off the dew."
Psalm 132:1-5, 11-12 (UMH 849). A plea to God to remember David's devotion in wishing to build a temple for God, and God's promise to sustain David's line if his descendents kept God's covenant. If you plan to sing the Psalm, consider using Tone 5 in D minor with the sung response.
Revelation 1:4b-8. The opening salutation to John's vision: "Grace to you from the one who was, and is and is to come, and from the seven spirits… and from Jesus Christ, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth."
John 18:33-37. Jesus answers the charge that some call him "King of the Jews," with "My kingdom is not from this world… For this I came into the world, to testify to the truth."
Worship Planning Notes
In the Christian calendar, today is either Christ the King (Final Sunday after Pentecost) or the third Sunday of Extended Advent (link is to our webinar with background and resources for celebrating Extended Advent in 2015).
Today is also Bible Sunday (USA) on the program calendar, the Sunday in National Bible Week as established and still sponsored by the National Bible Association. You may find “National Bible Week and the Hymnal” a helpful resource for selecting hymns for worship or Sunday school.
This coming Thursday is Thanksgiving Day (USA).
As with all programmatic emphases, remember the primary focus of worship is to be the scripture and the season—not the programmatic emphasis. So use the scriptures for this day in ways that make clear the importance of Scripture as a vehicle of two means of grace— in searching the scriptures ourselves, or in attending upon the ministry of the Word, whether read or expounded (General Rule 3). But keep the focus firmly on the keeping of Christ the King Sunday, whether as end to the Season after Pentecost or a high point in the celebration of Advent.
If you are observing some form of Extended Advent, or following our Modest Proposal or Radical Proposal for keeping a fuller Advent, today is a Sunday IN Advent, one of two where the basic color palette may change. Today the change may be to white or gold. On “Joy Sunday” (December 13) the colors may change to pink. On the other Sundays of the season, the color would be blue (indigo) or purple. On these two Sundays when the color changes, the mood changes as well. Much of Advent is admonitory or exhortatory in tone—and on purpose. Advent was created as a season of baptismal preparation, parallel to Lent. On these two Sunday, however, the tone turns to exaltation of Christ (today) and rejoicing (December 13).
If today functions for you primarily as the end of the Season after Pentecost, and Advent begins for you next week, keep in mind the purpose of this Sunday in that arrangement of the church year. Christ the King functions as one of the two “bookend Sundays” of the Season after Pentecost. (If you are keeping Extended Advent, All Saints has the same function). The other is Trinity Sunday. The course of the Season thus begins with a celebration of the Holy Trinity and concludes with the exaltation of Jesus Christ as Lord of All. This parallels our journey in discipleship during this season, starting with the grounding of our ministries in the life of the Triune God and concluding with the offering of all we have seen, done and learned in praise of Christ our Lord and King.
Resources for Planning Ahead
Here are three articles and a webinar to help you plan through the end of the year.
Seasons and Series for Fall 2015
Planning Worship for Discipleship and Ministry for the Season after Pentecost, Year B
Three Ways to Celebrate Advent and Christmas Season Fully in 2015/2016
Extended Advent Webinar (to learn more about how to implement Extended Advent)
Planning for Advent and Christmas, Year C
Webinar Slides: Planning for Advent and Christmas 2015
All Month Native American Heritage Month
November 22 Christ the King/Reign of Christ Sunday
Bible Sunday (USA)
November 26 Thanksgiving Day (USA)
November 29 “Regular” Advent Begins
United Methodist Student Day
December 1 World Aids Day (GBCS resources, Discipleship Ministries Resources)
December 21 Longest Night/Blue Christmas
December 24 Christmas Eve
December 25 Christmas Day
December 31 Watch Night/ New Year’s Eve/ Holy Name of Jesus
January 1 New Year’s Eve/ Holy Name of Jesus
January 3/6 Epiphany Sunday/Epiphany
January 10 Baptism of the Lord
January 11 Human Trafficking Awareness Day
January 17 Human Relations Day (Discipleship Ministries Resources)
January 18 Martin Luther King Jr. Day
January 18-25 Week of Prayer for Christian Unity
January 24 Ecumenical Sunday
Christ the King/The Reign of Christ is one of the most recent additions to the Christian liturgical calendar. Begun by the Roman Catholic Church in 1925, the celebration of Christ the King was adopted fairly quickly thereafter by a number of Protestant denominations with European roots who were already seeing the gathering threats of fascism and communism. The day is now celebrated worldwide by Roman Catholics and most Protestant denominations.
Whether you celebrate this day as the end of Ordinary Time or the Third Sunday in Advent, the message is the same: Jesus Christ is Lord of All. Readings in the three years bring somewhat different perspectives on what the ultimate Kingship/Reign of Jesus means, but all of them draw bright lines between the ways of his Reign, ongoing and yet to come, and the ways of the kingdoms of this world. If you are celebrating this as part of Advent, you may want to focus on how signs of Christ’s reign already present point to their fullness in the age to come.
Like all “bookend” Sundays, and unlike the readings during Ordinary Time just concluded, the readings of Christ the King are intended to relate to one another through the gospel reading. This pattern of related readings continues from now through Baptism of the Lord (January 10, 2016).
So today marks an occasion to shift how you approach the texts and the planning and preaching tasks. Start with the major purposes and themes of the day or season (Christ the King in this case, then later Advent and Christmas Seasons). Then move to the gospel, and identify the core pieces in it that apply the day or seasonal theme most directly to the missional needs of your congregation. Then, from there, connect the readings from the Old Testament and Epistle.
During these weeks, these helps are organized to help you do just that.
The Day: Christ the King
One might think that the readings for a day called “Christ the King” would be a matter of simple exaltation of Christ as King of Kings and Lord of Lords, a big “praise service” as it were.
They’re not. In each of the three years of the lectionary, the readings provide different angles to the question of what is at stake in making the claim, as we do, that Jesus Christ is King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
Why not just a big praise service with lots of “King Jesus” songs?
Because from the beginning of this festival in 1925, and then the expansion of the lectionaries from one to three years (Catholic and Protestant) beginning with Vatican II, we have consistently understood that simply saying “Lord, Lord” to Jesus is not enough. As Jesus himself says, our call is not just to offer right words, but actual obedience to the will of the Father (Matthew 7:21) and the direction of Jesus as our master discipling us. “King” and “Lord” have dramatically different meanings in the “kingdoms of this world” than they do in the kingdom of God, where Jesus reigns.
This is a day to explore, contemplate, and offer ourselves in praise and thanksgiving for what the reign of Christ means, in both solemn reverence for the way of God’s kingdom, and joyous defiance of the ways of the kingdoms of this world.
The Readings through the Lenses of the Day and the Gospel
Today’s reading from John places us in the examination chamber of Pilate. Here the claims being made by some about Jesus's kingship were put to a "real-world" test.
Jesus states it not once, but twice in verse 36: "My kingdom is not from this world," "My kingdom is not from here" (NRSV). As proof of this, Jesus notes that if his kingdom were from this world, his followers would be fighting to keep Jesus from being handed over to the authorities.
In other words, if his kingdom were “from here,” it would ultimately come down to being about self-protection.
But that’s not what his kingdom is about, and it’s not what he is about as its king.
The Reign of Jesus does not cause his followers to fight to preserve him or themselves. As we can see (and no doubt Pilate knew!) at the arrest in the garden (John 18:1-11), the disciples were perfectly willing to fight, and Simon was even armed with a sword which he used against a slave of the high priest. Jesus, however, rebuked Peter for this. “Put your sword back into its sheath!” he said. King Jesus did not rule or allow himself to be defended by violent means. He really could say that those who are his do not fight.
Instead, he says plainly, he (and thus his kingdom) are about “testifying to the truth.”
We don’t read Pilate’s response in this week’s text. But perhaps we hear its echo in our own ears?
“What is truth?”
It’s a real question. For Pilate, “Truth” could not exist apart from the power interests that backed it up—himself, those he oversaw and those in authority over him. Truth was thus always a strategy game, its contours and sometimes its essence shifting with the winds of power.
We already know from this text what truth is not. Truth is not the message that self-protection is the greatest good. Indeed, given the strong dialectical tendencies of John’s gospel, it would not be a stretch to suggest that John here implies Jesus calls that message nothing short of a lie.
If self-protection does not represent the greatest good in God’s kingdom, that for which the king and his followers truly stand, what does?
Pilate does not know.
But if we have heard John’s gospel, we do.
Jesus has already told us, here, that those who “belong to the truth listen to my voice.” Jesus’s disciples, however imperfectly, were listening to his voice when he gave them the “new commandment” at dinner before his arrest: “Love one another as I have loved you.” Later, after the resurrection, Peter would hear it, if imperfectly at first, as Jesus kept asking him “Do you love me?” (John 21:15-17). For Peter or any of us to “feed his sheep,” to take on leadership, this is the critical question. And we hear it again in the letters attributed to John: “Beloved, let us love each other, for love is of God, and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love has not known God, for God is love” (I John 4:7-8). This is the Truth to which King Jesus came to bear witness. God is Love—not power for its own sake.
And so the kingdom of God, and the kingship of Jesus, is all about letting and making way for God’s love to flow and resound throughout all creation.
What does that look like in real life, even in politics? David’s song near the end of 2 Samuel shows us.
David's song contrasts what happens when a king rules justly “in the fear of the Lord” with what happens when “the godless” are in charge. One who rules justly makes the whole world inviting and beautiful and lovely, like morning light on the dewy grass. Those who rule unjustly make the world hostile and undesirable and, at least for some, unloved and unlovable, like thorns one only dares touch with tools to transfer them to a burn pile.
So what is God’s kingdom up to in politics? Always God’s kingdom and King Jesus move toward making the world a more lovely place, and toward making those the world treats as unloved or unlovable as the truly and fully loved.
How do the realities of politics and the nature of your own participation in political discourse line up with the politics of God’s kingdom led by King Jesus? If we’re listening to the voice of King Jesus, how will we behave, or learn to behave, differently?
The opening of Revelation reminds us both of the nature of Christ’s kingship and of our particular role as God’s reign continues to unfold in Jesus and by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Verse 5: “And from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead and the ruler of the kings of the earth.” As we saw in John’s gospel, the very first attribute listed here is about truth—Jesus the faithful witness. That truth was put to death by the powers of this world, and God exposed the world’s truth as lies by raising Jesus from the dead. God’s reign in Jesus, not the kingdoms of this world, rules the world.
Jesus, risen truth and King, has now “made us a kingdom, priests to God and his Father” (verse 6, translation mine, emphasis mine). If you’ve been following the series in Hebrews, here again we see our priesthood front and center in the reign (in Hebrews, covenant) of God. We reign with Christ in offering intercession for the world still in need of hearing and begin converted by the truth of God’s reign of love.
So whether in our prayers or our politics, we have a role to play in bearing the news and work of Christ the King in this world, here and now.
And so we bring our true King praise, this day and all days, not only with our lips, but in our lives, not by the lies of self-protection or control, but by the truth of Love.
In Your Planning Team
So how is this day functioning for you? Is it a “white and gold Sunday” in Advent? Or is it a bookend Sunday after Pentecost?
Your answer to that question should deeply shape how you design worship today, mindful of the series of which this service is part and/or to which it may segue.
If it is a “white and gold Sunday” in Advent, today is a highlight within an ongoing series. While you’ll want to give particular attention to praising Jesus as king in music, prayers and Great Thanksgiving (the Advent Great Thanksgiving does this by using the Magnificat at part of its frame), you want to keep in perspective that today is only week three of a larger series. So today becomes less a day to “pull out all the stops” and more a day to heighten emphasis on this aspect of the culmination of all things in Christ and our participation in that here and now.
If it is a bookend Sunday after Pentecost, then you will want to do two things. First, do pull out all the stops in the closing of that season and its work (in worship and in daily life) of sending out disciples into accountable mission, again remembering to celebrate all you have seen, done and learned along the way. And second, you will want to make the segue, today, into the celebration of Advent you will begin next week.
Yes, Advent marks the beginning of the church year. But no, Advent is not a break in the work of discipleship or worship of the community. If you have done your work well during the Season after Pentecost, you will have invited persons to consider joining you for the season of baptismal preparation or reaffirmation that is Advent. The two-fold cycle of the church year is a season of preparation (Advent/Lent), then a cycle of formation (Christmas/Easter), and then a season of invitation and deployment into ministry (Season after Epiphany, Season after Pentecost) that leads to a new season of preparation, formation, and deployment and invitation.
So as part of your celebration of what has happened during this Season after Pentecost, be sure also to recognize and gather to pray for those who have been invited to discipleship during these months and now will be undergoing preparation for baptism during the season to come. And be sure to introduce and pray for those who will be sponsoring them—whether parents or others—and those who will be most directly involved in guiding them through formational groups or other processes during Advent and Christmas Season, leading up to and following their baptism or reception as professing members.
Whichever approach you are taking, your planning team may find some of the questions above and these helpful in planning worship for today.
- How do you experience the reign of Jesus bringing light and beauty and love and an inviting and enduring softness to the world where you are?
- How do you experience those who rule unjustly bringing thorns, and with them pain, hurt and destruction?
- What does a "beautiful" and “inviting” and loving politics of justice look like where you are?
- What people or organizations already seem to embody such a beautiful, inviting politics of justice?
- How does the prayer life of your congregation—corporately and individually-- reflect the work of the priesthood Christ our King has made us to be? How might better ways forward be modeled in worship today?
- Above all, and foundational to all, how do what you say and do in worship AND daily life model the core truth about God’s kingdom and Jesus as its King—“thy nature and thy name is Love” (Charles Wesley, “Come, O Thou Traveler Unknown,” verse 4).
Resources in The United Methodist Book of Worship (BOW) and additional worship resources
Greeting: BOW 420 (Christ the King)
Greeting: BOW 451 (Christ the King; “In the midst of the congregation”)
Canticle: UMH 734, "Canticle of Hope" (Revelation)
Call to Worship
Come, let us gather in the name of the Son of God, the son of David.
He rules over people justly,
ruling in the fear of God.
Jesus Christ is like the light of morning,
like the sun rising on a cloudless morning,
gleaming from the rain on the grassy land.
— Adapted from 1 Samuel 23:3-4.
Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come,
and from the seven spirits who are before his throne,
and from Jesus Christ,
the faithful witness,
the firstborn of the dead,
and the ruler of the kings of the earth.
To him who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood,
and made us to be a kingdom,
priests serving his God and Father,
to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.
Look! He is coming with the clouds;
every eye will see him,
even those who pierced him;
and on his account all the tribes of the earth will wail.
So it is to be. Amen.
— Adapted from Revelation 1:4b-7.
WORD AND RESPONSE
Prayer: UMH 721, Christ the King (Revelation, John)
Prayer: BOW 421 (Christ the King)
Prayer: BOW 511, For God's Reign (2 Samuel, Revelation, John)
Ecumenical Prayer Cycle: Cameroon, Central African Republic, Equatorial Guinea
THANKSGIVING AND COMMUNION
Prayer of Confession: BOW 478 (2 Samuel, John)
Prayer of Great Thanksgiving: "A Great Thanksgiving for Christ the King Sunday" or BOW 54-55 (Advent)
Prayer of Thanksgiving (if no Communion): BOW 556 (Revelation)
Blessing: BOW 563
See BOW 419 for additional Christ the King suggestions.
See BOW 416-418 for additional Thanksgiving Day suggestions.
ADDITIONAL RESOURCES FOR EXTENDED ADVENT
Suggested hymns and acts of worship from The Advent Project
Appropriate Advent Hymns for Today (even if you “officially” start Advent next Sunday!)
From The United Methodist Hymnal
196, "Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus" (Revelation)
202, "People, Look East" (post-Thanksgiving, pre-Christmas)
203, "Hail to the Lord's Anointed" (2 Samuel)
211, "O Come, O Come Emmanuel" (especially Antiphon 1, Christ the King)
214, "Savior of the Nations, Come," verses 1, 2, 4 (John)
From The Faith We Sing
2087, "We Will Glorify the King of Kings" (Revelation, Christ the King)
2091, "The King of Glory Comes" (Revelation, Christ the King)